Personal Protective Equipment

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Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

What is PPE?

PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. It includes safety gear or clothing designed to protect people from injury or disease when it is not possible to eliminate workplace hazards completely.

Most retail and convenience store operations do not have complex requirements for using PPE. But for some tasks, PPE is necessary. Some examples of PPE that might be used in the retail industry include:

  • Gloves for handling garbage or working with cleaners or chemicals
  • High-visibility vests (or safety vests) for working around vehicles or moving equipment
  • Eye protection and respiratory protection for working around chemicals or in dusty places
  • Hearing protection for working in areas where there is constant or intermittent loud noise
  • Safety footwear for working in storage areas or unloading stock

When is PPE Required?

Workers need to use PPE whenever other hazard control measures are not 100% effective. Employers have to do everything they can to eliminate or reduce a hazard before they resort to PPE.

Using PPE is often called the “last line of defense” because it doesn’t do anything to reduce a hazard – it just puts a barrier between it and the worker. For example, wearing the right kind of ear protection properly will reduce the chance of hearing damage, but the noise still remains.

PPE is therefore the least reliable strategy in protecting workers from hazards. The effectiveness of PPE depends on many variables such as whether or not it provides the right level of protection, whether it is worn properly, fits well, is in good condition and is worn at the right times. Workers need training in order to be able to get the most protection from their PPE.

Who Decides What PPE is Needed?

Provincial Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (OHSR) set out requirements for many situations in which workers need to use PPE. If in doubt, check your OHSR to make sure you are doing the right thing.

WHMIS product labels and MSDSs will also give instructions for the appropriate kind of PPE to use when handling chemicals. Make sure workers know how to read and understand the information on WHMIS labels and that the right PPE is available. Please visit the WHMIS module for more information.

Sometimes PPE is a good idea even if there are no specific legal requirements. For example, it is a good idea to wear puncture resistant gloves when taking out the garbage. They will help to protect workers from getting cut by objects sticking out of the garbage bag as well as protect them from getting dirty. For more information on this topic, please see the section on taking out the garbage in Preventing Common Retail Injuries.

Make sure that instructions for tasks requiring the use of PPE are written down and include instructions on how workers are expected to use and care for PPE. Include where to find PPE and exactly when to use it.

Who Provides PPE?

Some PPE has to be provided by the employer – especially if it is a specialized item. Some standard PPE is the responsibility of workers, but employers often have programs to help workers find and pay for PPE.

Worker responsibilities

Unless otherwise agreed upon, workers have to provide their own:

  • Clothing for protection against the natural elements (for example, a raincoat for working outside unloading stock)
  • Safety headgear (for example, a hard hat)
  • Safety footwear (for example, safety boots for stockroom work)
  • General-purpose work gloves. If a product or task requires specific gloves, the employer must provide them

Workers have to use the PPE provided by their employers.

Employer responsibilities

Any PPE other than that listed above has to be provided by the employer at no cost to workers. Eye, hearing and respiratory protection are a few examples of PPE that would need to be specific to the conditions of a particular workplace, so they must be provided by employers.

Employers also have to accommodate situations in which workers have special considerations. For example, if a staff member has an allergic reaction to latex gloves, the employer has to provide an appropriate and equally effective alternative.

Education and Monitoring

Make sure workers use their PPE and know how to take good care of it.

  • Make the expectations and instructions for using PPE part of orientation training for all new staff
  • Do regular refresher training – people can get complacent if they are not reminded to use PPE
  • Check on workers – if you see someone not using the required PPE, point it out to them and explain why it is important

See the module Training and Supervision for more information on providing effective education and supervision.

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